As dull as a season of midtable mediocrity may sound, it would certainly be preferable to what was a hellish 2003/04 season: undoubtedly one of the most rocky periods in Darlington's history.

As the club looks ahead to a season which came close to never appearing, supporters will be hoping the club can, for the first time in four years, safely navigate their way through a campaign without the kind of controversy that has dogged the club of late.

Aside from the dark days of administration, a multitude of off-the-field issues have caused the club's name to be dragged through the mud.

The departure of George Reynolds - former safe cracker, former chairman and now very much a former local hero - signals a new chapter for the Quakers starting with the visit of Grimsby Town tomorrow.

There would be no better way to banish the miserable memories of the last four years than by ending the season in the play-offs, or even an automatic promotion slot - football moves on quickly and even relative success would almost magically erase whatever happened in the four years following May 25, 2000.

That was the night it all started to go wrong as Quakers lost the Third Division play-off final to Peterborough and proceeding that rain-soaked evening at Wembley the club went into freefall.

Steadily Quakers are finding their feet again, but far from predicting a return to play-off contention, even Hodgson, always drinking from a glass half full rather than half empty, isn't predicting a promotion push, instead citing mid-table as relative prosperity.

He admitted: "Success for me would be finishing in the top ten because that would be a massive improvement on last season when we finished 18th.

"A play-off place would be a surprise but would also mark excellent progress considering what happened on and off the field last season.

"I came back to the club in November and our form improved from January onwards - had we been in that form for the entire season I'm sure we would've finished in a play-off place.

"If you take that into consideration, and the new players we've brought into the club, we should be able to finish in the top ten."

Having been a part of two play-off seasons - the other the first half of season 1995/96 - he's aware of what it takes to reach the top seven.

Darlington have finished in the bottom half of the table for the last four seasons so that suggests, with only five new players, the squad can't be that close to attaining a top seven finish.

But as Hodgson points out, the form at the back end of last season lends itself to the notion that Quakers are now much better equipped and should that improvement continue then better times could be ahead.

In fact, Darlington's last 19 matches last season yielded 32 points, an average of 1.68 per game and if that had been maintained throughout the 46 league games Quakers would have picked up 77 points, enough to finish fifth in the instead of the lowly 18th Hodgson's men had to settle for.

Statistics can be misleading but what isn't in doubt is the calibre of defender now at the club.

Curtis Fleming looks a class above, Matt Clarke and Ryan Valentine improved dramatically last season, while Joey Hutchinson has shown the potential to become the next Craig Liddle, who is still among the best defenders in the division.

Joe Kendrick, able to play left-back, centre defence and left midfield has also joined and with Brian Close and Stephen Thomas on board the midfield has competition for places with only the frontline causing Hodgson a headache.

He's trawled Europe for a strtiker but none have fitted the bill: "We're covered in defence and midfield, we've brought players to the club in both of those positions so we're looking good there.

"One thing we're not going to is panic about signing a striker. Promotion won't be won or lost in the first month of the season, so I'm not panicking just yet about signing a striker.

"But at any level of football, if you haven't got a goalscorer getting into double figures for the season you'll struggle because you can't rely on winning 1-0 week after week.

"But I do know that by the end of August we will have signed a striker and will have in place forwards that are up to the job."

The top ten finish that Hodgson hopes for suggests a flirtation with the play-off zone but after a year in which the club almost suffered relegation and went out of business altogether most would accept the relative progress of a mid-table berth.

Surely it would be unfair and unrealistic to expect a club still on a return journey from a trip to death's door to end up in the play-off zone.

Read more about the Quakers here.